A creative slump, a year-long stint in jail, the seizures, the bitter, prolonged label battle—the ‘10s were a tough decade for Lil Wayne. These trials have little bearing on the direction of his 13th studio album Funeral, in which he eschews introspection and sets out on a mission to bury other rappers across a digressive 24-song tracklist. This album is the work of latter-day Mixtape Weezy, who is eager to treat songs as exercises, to prioritize spectacle over substance, to showcase his technical daring and singular lyrical imagination.
Wayne has good reason to indulge this impulse. He is, at times, still a wonder—an ageless Swiss army knife who can carve up any beat with any gadget in his toolkit, who deploys angular flows and zany metaphors and executes dicey hairpin vocal turns from mutter to wail. Despite an encouraging performance from the Best Rapper Alive emeritus, Funeral represents a failure of album construction. It is rife with defects—poor editing, clumsy sequencing, and a pupu platter of room-temperature trap beats—that highlight Wayne’s worst tendencies as much his stylistic flair.
Funeral is wildly uneven, a landscape of pronounced highs and lows. In truth, it peaks early, on “Mahogany.” Amidst a smoky Eryn Allen Kane sample (produced by Mannie Fresh and Sarcastic Sounds), Wayne harnesses his run-on sentence syndrome by tracing the many associative strands that run away from the word ‘mahogany’: “Mahogany door handle to match the floor panel/ Mahogany sand, mahogany Dior sandal.” The battle for the album’s worst song is much more contentious. There’s “Trust Nobody,” sunk by a banal and out-of-place Adam Levine hook; “Get Out Of My Head,” soured by the great rap pedant XXXTentacion; “Sights and Silencers,” a surprisingly limp The-Dream ballad that he should have just given to Jeremih; and “Dreams,” which sounds like Wayne’s audition for a high school production of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. Funeral is pockmarked with duds.
Funeral is also studded with classic Wayne-isms—like when he shouts out Sinead O’Connor, casually references the condiment Heinz 57, and cooks up a bit of wordplay inspired by Eric Snow, the former NBA player whose unremarkable career peaked in 2003. These are the quintessential, delightfully random moments that Wayne fans have lived for since his Drought 3 days. While that version of Wayne tempered his referential, stream-of-consciousness style with masterful pacing and comedic timing, too many songs on Funeral—like “Darkside,” “Wayne’s World,” “Mama Mia,” and the title track—devolve into word vomit, as if he’s trying to spew out entire verses in a single breath. The simple removal of the album’s eight worst songs would have framed Wayne less as an unruly fire hose and more as a madcap rap virtuoso, which he is.
Lil Wayne’s previous album, Tha Carter V, was also overlong, but it was at least anchored by a gentle familial undercurrent. Aside from a few moments, like “Bastard (Satan’s Kid),” which touches on Wayne’s father’s neglectful parenting, Funeral is emotionally adrift. As Wayne heads into a new decade—his fourth as a professional rapper—it’s hard to know where his head is at, where he’s coming from, or where he’s going.